Can We Talk?

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If your language were as pretty as French you would want to talk more too. I like French movies.  When compared to American movies, they tend to be much heavier on the dialogue.

The French love dialogue.  They also love a good argument and sometimes indulge in it just for fun.  They don’t need to have strong feelings on a subject in fact virulent emotion in such arguments is frowned upon.  Think of it more like intellectual debate.

People watch television news programs to see such debate.  These French talk shows almost always have 4 or more people in the discussion. More discussion, less point/counter point. In their minds, how can you have a meaningful discussion without fewer people?

In France (not in private Switzerland) such debate isn’t just left to television, intense discussion of politics, religion and current events occur during regularly, even during casual social encounters.  Be prepared to participate, but don’t be as emotional as they are on the Sunday morning round tables.  You’re expected to express and intellectual analysis, but not attempt to convert others to your way of thinking or get hot under the collar.  Sometimes, this is easier said than done.

P.S. If I could talk in French without a horrible American accent, I would never shut up.  Except perhaps to listen to other people say beautiful things in French. Oui, mon amour.

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Mrs.? Ms.? Miss? Just Call Me Madame

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One of the hardest parts of French is getting the genders straight.  French nouns are either masculine or feminine.  There’s no logical way to discern whether the noun is masculine or feline, you just have to memorize it.   Adjectives change to agree with the gender and number of the nouns they modify.  This means that most of them have four forms!

Traditionally, when you saw the name of a profession, you would immediately know whether the professional referred to was a man or a woman from the form of the noun.  It’s comparable to using the term policeman or policewoman (instead of police officer) in English.  In Switzerland, French is changing to make professions more gender neutral by standardizing the names.   The poster above reads “the times change the language changes too.”   It’s not the only way the French language is changing in Switzerland.

As a newcomer, you don’t want to make a faux pas or embarrass yourself.   Knowing the correct way to address people is part of this.  It is made a little easier by the Swiss custom of not using Miss.  That way, you don’t have to find out someone’s marital status refer to them appropriately.  All women, regardless of their marital status, use Mrs.   It’s a sign of respect…just call me Madame.

What is a Ch’ti?

Most Americans have never heard of “Ch’ti.”  Every Frenchman and woman knows.  Most of the French speaking moviegoing public knows.  Why?  The highest grossing French film of all time is “Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis” which loosely translates to “Welcome to the Home of the Ch’tis.”

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A  is someone from northeastern France,  the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in particular.  The inhabitants are French and speak French, their regional dialect is heavily influenced by the local language Picard (a Romance language closely related to French traditionally spoken by people in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy areas of France and the Walloon part of Belgium).  As a result, their pronunciation is slightly different from the rest of France and the local slang draws heavily from Picard.   These differences were played upon to great effect in the film, with several sorts of Abbott & CostelloWho’s On First” type of interactions.

Area of the picard language

Area of the picard language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Picard, “ch’ti” is local parlance for the language.  In southern France, they are referred to as “cheutimi.”  Ch’ti refers to both the language and people who hail from that part of France.  Now that you know what it is, we can move on to pronunciation.   It sounds like, well, um….

enseigne de café en picard, Cayeux-sur-mer (Somme)

enseigne de café en picard, Cayeux-sur-mer (Somme) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This area is stereotyped as a remount unsophisticated, cold,  and rainy place.  It’s inhabitants had traditionally been stereotyped as: alcoholic, uneducated yokel who eats disgusting (to the French palate) food, and speaks an incomprehensible version of French (which may be an unpardonable sin in France).  The genius of the film is that it exploits these stereotypes and debunks them in such a hilarious way.

Spoiler alert – the main character ends up falling in love with the area’s friendly, unpretentious, helpful inhabitants and is able to see past the grey skies to appreciate the rich local culture.  Outsiders tend to think of other countries cultures as homogenous, when they can be incredibly diverse.   It’s a good reminder that France’s culture differs dramatically within the country.  Think about the differences between New York City, New Orleans and Salt Lake City for example.

One final thought, there’s a line in the movies that says it could be worse, you could have to go to Belgium.  Anyone that reads this blog knows my love for Belgium.  If it is better than that, it must be heavenly.

Everyone Loves St.-Paul-de-Vence

St.-Paul-de-Vence has been discovered.  Around 2.5 million people visit the tiny, 16th century medieval hilltop village each year.  It is filled with art galleries, boutiques and cafes.  The picturesque walk along the Rue Grande (aka Main Street) from Vence Gate to the Nice Gate, is way more beautiful and much more enjoyable than any shopping mall. Tourists love to photograph magnificent old medieval and baroque facades for good reason.  It is beautiful.   Scenic and charming, it is hard to take a bad picture here (unless other tourists photo-bomb you).

We found ourselves ducking into side streets and back alleys to avoid the hoards of tour bus passengers and students on field trips gushing down the streets like a lava stream.  St.-Paul-de-Vence is quaint and its backstreets are enchanting.  These who only shop the main drag are missing out.

I loved the potted plants outside doors, vine-covered stone walls, weathered squares, trickling fountains, narrow alleys, statues tucked into nooks, wrought iron gates, intricate door knockers and delicately worked wrought-iron shop signs .  It seemed as though there were adorable details everywhere I looked.  For example, the sidewalk stones are laid in patterns.  I’m just lucky to keep my floor relatively clean, forget about tiling flowers into it.

St.-Paul-de-Vence is built on a natural defensible spot, a rock outcropping in the Alps Maritimes on the Cote d’Azur.  French king Francis 1st made it a stronghold and ordered the construction of massive defensive walls.  Good call Frankie.  I wouldn’t want to lose this town to the enemy either.  Paul’s medieval fortress walls surround the town and are some of the most intact in the region.  We walked the perimeter taking in the breathtaking views of mountains and sea.

Yep. That’s the Mediterranean in the distance

The cemetery is just outside the city walls on the Mediterranean side.  The painter, Mark Chagall, is buried in the Saint Paul-de-Vence cemetery. His simple white tomb has small stones on top.  They are added by visitors as tributes pursuant to both Russian and Jewish tradition.

In case you were wondering, St.-Paul-de-Vence is also known as St. Paul.  Since there are a lot of other towns named St. Paul in France, it is typically referred to as the one by Vence.

Villefranche, Oui, S’Il Vous Plaît

Villefranche-sur-Mer is carved into a hillside on a bay between Nice and Monaco.  We chose to stay in Villefranche because it is smaller and more residential than many of the towns on the water.   That’s not to say that they don’t have the tourism thing down pat.  Cruise ships regularly put down anchor in the harbor and we paid more to park our car overnight here than we did in New York City!  As cheap as I am, I didn’t care.  The views were worth it.

I loved the pastel colored houses and church.  On the left is the Baroque Eglise St-Michel church.  While it seems as though every town here has impressive, serene churches, this one had interesting objects that appeared magical with the light streaming in on them.  The statue of Christ below was carved out of olive wood by a convict.

We fed our coffee addiction and had breakfast at a café on the docks.  People were readying their boats for a sailing competition that weekend and seeing fisherman returning with their catch provided great entertainment.  After gorging on fish the night before, we learned that the Mediterranean is almost fished out and most of the fish served in restaurants is imported from the Atlantic.  Many of the towns on the Côte d’Azur started as fishing villages.  Today, tourism is the number one industry, but Villefranche is still has a few people who still earn a living fishing.

Villefranche has been a port since Roman times and is strategically important because it could be used as a base from which to attack the port of Nice.  After the fall of the Roman empire, residents fled and built the hill towns that dot the mountains behind the water.  In the 13th century, the Duke of Provence wanted to defend the port from Saracen Turks and strengthen their hold on the coastline.  To get them to move, he made living there tax-free.  Gotta love tax-free.  The Duke of Savoy constructed the fort to defend the port and bay in the 16th century.

The vaulted Rue Obscure (dark street) provided shelter from bombardment.  Rue Obscure is a passage way under the harbor front houses dating from 1260.

Narrow, steep lanes climb up from the harbor.  They were blissfully quiet and relatively deserted until the cruise ship started ferrying passengers ashore.

We decided to pull the plug and head out to the Grand Cornishe.  Before we left, we stopped to check out this church.  Villefranche is known for the Chapelle St.-Pierre in which Jean Cocteau (a famous French artist, poet and filmmaker) painted lavish frescos with heavy black lines and pastel colors.

Oops, I almost forgot.  In Villefranche, we found a new use for a bidet.  It came in really handy to clean the mud off of his Dunks.

Cozy Yet Elegant Megève

The Rothschild’s developed Megève as an alternative to St. Mortiz in the 1920’s.  It’s high end, filled with pretty people, money and stylish places to spend it.  The center of the village is medieval, but don’t start thinking Megève is quiet, sleepy and/or antiquated. There are stylish modern boutique hotels and chalets that look like they were decorated by Axel Veervoordt.  Gourmet restaurants (many rated in the Michelin Guide), chic watering holes and hip clubs abound.  Non-skiers can shop ‘til they drop at upscale boutiques, visit the spa or hit the casino.  If you want to take a nap then rip it up apres ski, this is a good place to do it.

A pedestrian friendly atmosphere dominates Megève and the streets practically invite you to stroll through them.  You can walk from town to the lifts.  Snow melt forms a small river that meanders its way through the village.  In its center is the main square with its traditional church belfry.

While we didn’t see any of the famous horse-drawn sleighs, we were able to see signs of them.  Ski slopes, chalets and around forty active farms surround Megève, adding both character and fresh culinary delights.

 

How Do You Pronounce Ouchy?

How do you pronounce this?

 

Ouchy is a town on Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) near Lausanne.  It is known for hosting Byron (and Shelley), the Olympic Museum next-door its castle and its beautiful lakefront.

 

Ouchy fontaine

Ouchy fontaine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When we went with Pitbull, it was gray and freezing cold.  Last year, we were able to enjoy the beautiful waterfront.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ooo-she? Ew-she? He likes to pronounce it like a minor injury, ouch-ee.  I’ve been trying Ew-chi.  After a bit of research, I found out Ouchy is pronounced ūshē‘.  How would you pronounce it?

 

Getting even more advanced, how would the French pronounce this?

 

 

 

Another French Lesson For Y’All

First page of 19th-Century version of original...

I have been busy translating my resume into French.  Translation is an art and I am no Da Vinci.*  I met with someone (a native French speaker) to review a draft of it.  There were two points where he laughed out loud (not a good sign).

In trying to describe myself as professional, I wrote “Je suis une professionelle”.  I said that I was a professional.  The problem with this is that it is slang for a certain occupation and really only used in that context.  Needless to say, I revised it.

When talking about reviewing something, I used the word “revue“.  Unfortunately, a common connotation of the word “revue” is familiar to many Americans who go to Las Vegas and see shows with dancing ladies.  It goes without saying that when that connotation of the word dawned on me, I didn’t want it anywhere near my professional qualifications.

*If you want further confirmation that translation is an art, “The Situation” from the Jersey ShoreMichael Paul Sorrentino‘s nickname is translated into “Le Problème”.